Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anita Blake belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Laurell Hamilton.
There was blood on her hands.
The room was dark, and damp. The uneven spaces between the corners of the room were dense with broken pipes dripping putrid water. A wooden staircase, black with fungus and eaten through with worms and rot, sagged brokenly in the middle.
From the ceiling, a single yellow light bulb, old and weak, swung on a rusted chain. The dwindling light threw everything into moving, yawning shadows.
Her feet had been cut. Blood crept over the floor, over lines of silver dust.
There was a smell. A smell of sulfur, of fire and ash, of burnt skin and rotting flesh. Of mildew and wet.
The taste in her mouth was of iron and chalk, metal and dust.
The body lay on its back, its arms and legs stretched at four angles. The head had been ripped off, and then the torso slit from the base of the neck to the pelvis just above the crotch. The gaping belly was a mess of torn tissue and blood, the entrails spilling haphazard everywhere. The penis and testicles had been severed, and veins opened in both thighs. Pieces of flesh were missing in various places, and the meat there was sloppily rended and rived, as if it had been chewed at, ground and gnawed.
The skin, what remained of it, was weirdly stippled. When she looked closer, when she focused on the body, she saw, cut into the skin, strange, coiling symbols, nothing she recognized, sliced into the skin again and again and again.
Everything stank of blood.
Pressing her hands, her bloodied hands, to the wall, ignoring the fungus pulped beneath her palms, she pulled herself to her feet.
Her legs were coated in silver dust. There was so much of it on the floor. She saw that, earlier, the dust had been lain down in three, very particular circles, large and wide, each then circled again with eight, smaller circles, these with five-pointed stars in their centers. But now they were barely holding their shapes, the dust strewn from one corner of the filthy room to the other, a mess of blood and slime and silver.
She could see, in the dust, the drag marks from where she had crawled out of one of them.
Before the stairs, in another circle around the mutilated corpse, were the stubs of candles. They had melted, dissolved into lumps of wax now cold, and one or two had been stepped on, smeared into the floor.
Her breaths came in quick, struggling gasps.
She was naked. She couldn't remember why.
Her hair was wet. She didn't want it to be blood, but it was, and when she touched her hair, her hand came away painted red.
Behind her, farther into the darkness, away from the light bulb, something moved. She didn't hear it, she didn't see it—somehow her skin, her body, felt the air—felt
—and then she was moving.
More blood. Black blood, thick and viscous, on her hands and arms. She was climbing the stairs, but she wasn't certain how she'd gotten to them. There was nothing in the room behind her now, nothing living, nothing dead.
Nothing but a corpse.
At the top, at a square, concrete landing in front of a metal door, there was a pile of folded clothes. She wiped her hands as much as she could on the wood, the concrete, and then began picking things up. Slacks, a shirt, shorts, a tie, dress shoes, and a long trench coat, all black, all a man's. In the coat she found a clip of keys, a car remote, a pack of cigarettes, a book of matches, and a pair of sunglasses, black. In the pants, she found a wallet, a watch, and a cell phone.
There was three hundred dollars in cash, and several credit cards. She barely glanced at the driver's license to get the address, and from it saw that she was probably in St. Louis, Missouri.
The clothes were too big for her, far too big, would drag and catch no matter what she did, but she put them on anyway because there was nothing else and she couldn't go out naked. The watch told her that it was two-forty-five in the morning, but naked would still get too much attention. The sleeves had to be rolled up, the pant legs, too, and by the time she was done, the clothes were nearly as bloodstained as she was. The trench coat was leather, which helped, and she put it on, putting everything she'd found into its pockets.
Beneath the clothes, on the concrete, was a large, iron key. She looked from it to the metal door, compared it to the lock, and decided that it would fit.
It occurred to her then, in a remote, detached way, that she hadn't been able to find the head that should have been on the body. Not important,
she thought, and stood, still, to realize that she did not recognize the voice in her own head.
It was very cold. She was beginning to shiver badly. No more time to think about it.
The key did unlock the door. She opened it with an earsplitting shriek of decaying metal. Outside it, she saw the bottom of a concrete stairwell, steep and narrow, and, toward the top, a faint, orange light, as of streetlights.
It was humid, and hot.
She didn't look back. Stepping out into the hot concrete, her feet swallowed whole by the man's shoes, she pulled the door closed behind her, the rust screaming stridently, and saw, just as the edge of the door met the frame, in the gap, that the light bulb had burnt out.